MEMORIES OF THE FALLS THEATRE
By Mike Solether ’69 (April, 2000)
It was the summer of 1979. Members of the high school Class of 1969 were gathering for their 10-year reunion. At one point in the evening a small band of alumni picked up some spray paint, walked over to the now empty Falls Theatre and vandalized the west wall with graffiti. This was their way of saying farewell to the soon-to-be demolished 50+ year landmark of Chagrin Falls. Since that time whole graduating classes of Chagrin Falls would have no recollection of there ever being a movie theatre in the village. Whatever memories of growing up here that they may have do not include a first date, watching a matinee of Walt Disney’s latest release and spending all day Sunday hanging out at the “Pit.” For those of us that do remember those days, I would like to stir up some of those memories which take us back to a Chagrin Falls that was a different place, a real small town in rural America.
The Falls Theatre was built in 1915 when “movies” were sweeping the imaginations of the people of this country. In the 1920’s Lauren Solether was brought to Chagrin Falls to manage three movie theatres, one in Hudson, one in Washington Court House and the one in the Village. He later called for his wife, Hazel, and son, David, to join him here. Things were very hard in those days and they took up residence in the dressing rooms in the back of the building. As the depression was underway, they continued to make do and even to purchase the business. To promote the movie theatre they would have special nights to attract people to attend. Such events included Farm Night at which time certain livestock animals (usually a pig) would be given to the lucky winner. Bank Nights were offered with a cash giveaway and Dish Night for those who would collect dinnerware over a period of time. All this was to get people to spend their money there.
As things began to get better for the Solethers, they moved first to the front of the building and then in 1937 they moved to Lake Lucerne. When WWII ended David Solether (my father) finished school and returned with his bride, Betty, to Chagrin Falls. Part of their income came from running a small concession stand in the front of the building outside the lobby area. At that time no refreshments were allowed in the movie theatre itself. When Hazel saw how much money it was making she quickly changed her mind, and candy and popcorn were now a part of her institution. In the 1950’s air conditioning came to the Falls Theatre. This would not have happened so soon if it weren’t for my sister, Leslie Solether ’68. As a child the fans that were on either side of the screen would make such a racket that they terrified her. Like most grandparents, Lauren and Hazel remedied the problem by having a system installed right away.
Many of Chagrin Falls’ students found employment here during their teenage years. What joy it was for some to get paid and watch movies for free. As like some institutions, there were people that made this job a part of their lives. Perhaps the one that I remember most is the one that gave the Falls Theatre its most remembered nickname— “The Pit.” During the remaining years of the theatre, the local young people would call the Falls Theatre “The Pit.” They believed it came from the exit well on the east side of the building. It was below ground level, dirty and damp but still a great place to smoke cigarettes and neck with your girlfriend. In reality, the name came from a loyal employee of the Falls Theatre. That person was Greg Hatfield, class of 1966. In the early 1960’s the movie theatre building was in need of renovation. When people commented on the condition of the premises, Greg would respond that the place was really a “hairy armpit.” Hence, the name was just shortened to “The Pit.” The last 10 or so years of the Falls Theatre were not the most glamorous. Hazel Solether was in her declining years but still continued to work the business. When she passed away the theatre was run by Dave Solether. By then the $1.00 movie houses were taking away the moviegoers in the area. The rise of the large chain movie operations was also draining to a single house 500-seat theatre.
Some may remember being one of a dozen people at the movie at any one time. At last it was time to make way for the future. The movie theatre was sold to a group of investors, torn down and a new building put up in its place. Little remains of the movie theatre are left. The actual Falls’ portion of the marquee was taken off by Carl Schuster ’63. The movie projectors were bought by the photographer, Julius Boros. A few seats are in the Village Historical Society as well as my basement. Jack Shutts ’66 will display some movie posters for sale at the hardware store. Charlie at the Mug and Brush still has a few bricks to show and bring back memories. Perhaps some of the readers of this article have some other memorabilia which they might want to share. All that remember the Falls Theatre, I am sure, have a special place in their hearts for that once proud institution. It sort of was the end of the mom-and-pop era giving way to the chains and large institutions that are now so much a part of our lives. I am glad I was once part of it.
THE REST OF THE STORY OF THE FALLS THEATRE
by Mike Solether ‘69
I was pleased and honored to have an article published in the Tiger Tales April, 2000 edition, regarding some of the many memories that I had about the old Falls Theatre. A history spanning from 1915 to 1979 allowed me to compile information concerning the period of my lifetime. There is more. Shortly after the abovementioned article was published, I received from Tom Mattern information about another Falls Theatre. This was discovered in advertisements from various old class yearbooks as dated from 1910 to 1916. A “post it” note read, “Okay Mike—can you explain all of this? Your next assignment! Tom.”
Now I had become as curious as Tom and set out to research this oddity. Sure enough, the historical records indicated that there was another Falls Theatre located on Pearl Street (now known as West Washington Street where the now Lowe’s Electronics building is). It was owned by a firm name of Falls Amusement Co. This operation ceased in March of 1915 to make way for the now better-remembered movie theatre on East Washington St. The new Falls Theatre was opened in May of 1915 also by Falls Amusement Co. My grandfather Lauren Solether did not take over the management of the Falls Theatre until the mid 1920’s. Up until then it was under the management and ownership of the Rood family. This is where it gets curious. My investigation revealed that a man named Leslie Rood originated the Falls Theatre at the turn of the century. It provided silent movies to the people in the area. At that time picture shows were shown in auditoriums with no seats. Watchers would walk in, view the “movies” and then leave. Full-length presentations were soon to come. His family liked to call it “the Theatorium” and took great efforts to insure a safe environment both physically and morally for the patrons of Chagrin Falls. They boasted of daily family programming and a fireproof building (celluloid at the time was quite flammable). A published ad read:
“We comply with all the laws regulating the safety, comfort and health of our patrons. A booster is a man who does all the good he can for all the people he can as well as he can. We are showing the best pictures we can as good as they can be shown. In all the world you will find nothing as entertaining as Moving Pictures, and nowhere can you find better pictures than those shown in our theatre.”
Most curious of all was that in my research I was to learn more about the Rood family than I had realized before. Leslie Rood, as I now know, is the grandfather of Judy Rood (class of 1959). Judy was later to marry Darryl Solether (class of 1956), my cousin, son of James Solether. And so it goes that the entertainment moguls of Chagrin Falls for almost 80 years remained in what was to be the same family business.